In any other season, the kind of day-to-day roster turnover the Checkers have experienced over the last week would be significant. The way things have gone for the last two months, it’s become business as usual.
“It is what it is,” said coach Jeff Daniels, then only around halfway through a span of eight transactions in four days. “We make do with what we have.”
As the recalls and reassignments keep flooding in, it’s been difficult to keep tabs on what that means for the Checkers, who play Friday night in Norfolk. At one point they looked as though they might be slightly more depleted than they were in their last game on Saturday, though as of the dust (possibly) settling Thursday, they should actually have more depth.
The net result is that forwards Andreas Nodl and Jeremy Welsh and defenseman Michal Jordan have re-joined the roster, with forward Zac Dalpe going to Carolina. Dalpe might be the most accomplished scorer in that group, but Nodl’s four points (1g, 3a) in five previous AHL games this season shouldn’t be ignored.
“In fairness to him, he hadn’t played a lot of hockey at the time,” said Daniels of Nodl, who played 17 games in his native Austria during the NHL lockout and registered one assist in eight NHL games between stints with Charlotte. “He got better as time went on.”
Meanwhile, the Checkers are left with both Jordan and Marc-Andre Gragnani after a week in which it looked like they would have only one of the two, who were exchanged for one another on Monday and again on Wednesday. Those players, along with the likes of scoring leader Chris Terry and All-Star goalie Justin Peters, will be counted upon to help the team retain its current momentum.
“We’ve had good leadership, and those guys deserve credit for making sure everyone is ready to play and that the new guys feel comfortable,” said Daniels. “The new players we’ve had have really bought into our system and what we’re trying to do.”
The Checkers now have eight players on their roster that started the season in the ECHL, most of which will play Friday. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to replace the offense of players like Dalpe, Brett Sutter (suspension) and Riley Nash (NHL recall), who rank second through fourth in team scoring, but they’ll at the very least be counted upon to continue to play solid hockey in all areas.
“You know that guys that come up (from the ECHL) are going to work hard,” said Daniels.
A more in depth look at the events of a busy week:
Sutter, who the AHL suspended for one game for checking to the head, will be eligible to return for the first of back-to-back home games against the Oklahoma City Barons on Sunday. However, with the way the team’s captain has been playing lately (eight points in his last four games), even one game is a big deal.
“It’s been great to see guys like that get rewarded for their hard work,” said Daniels. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and over the last few weeks has been the best he’s been all year.”
Having already tied or set new career highs in goals, assists and points, Sutter agreed with that assessment about his overall game. When asked what may have led to his scoring surge (he’s now fourth on the team in points), he actually pointed to an increased focus on the more traditional parts of his game that observers have come to expect during his six AHL seasons.
“I really decided to focus on being a physical presence, which is something I think our team needs more of,” he said. “We need to be hard to play against.”
That made his second suspension of the season (he previously missed one game for boarding in January) difficult to swallow, though he has no choice but to accept it now.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The way I play the game, I’ve got to play with an edge and I can’t change that. It’s hard to get suspended for something you didn’t think was that bad.”
Dalpe Earns Another NHL Chance
It’s anyone’s guess as to how long Dalpe, second on the Checkers in scoring with 36 points, will be gone. If he’s able to display a grittier side of his game that the Hurricanes have been looking for, it may even be for good.
“He produces (with the Checkers) and you’d like to see him do that up top, but it’s all the little things in the game like winning battles and playing away from the puck that will make him a full-time player,” said Cory Stillman, the Hurricanes’ director of forward development who was in Charlotte for this week’s practices.
After starting the NHL season with Carolina, all Dalpe did during a seven-game stint with Charlotte was score eight points (5g, 3a). That includes his four-point, two-shorthanded-goal performance on Friday that tied and set a franchise record, respectively, and three game-winning goals.
Simply put, it would have been difficult to accomplish much more than that. However, it was what Dalpe did away from the rink that earned the strongest reviews.
“He was good in that he scored points but his attitude was outstanding,” said Daniels. “He came down on a mission, and that’s something that other players can look at as an example.”
“For him it’s a great thing, because it shows he’s mentally committed and ready to play at any level,” said Stillman.
After playing in the Hurricanes’ 3-0 loss in Washington on Tuesday, Dalpe was expected to be a healthy extra for Thursday’s home game against Pittsburgh.
Samson Still Recovering
It’s been nearly two entire months since Jerome Samson played his last game, and he may not be much closer to returning.
The two-time All-Star is dealing with a concussion, which by definition does not come with a finite recovery time. Daniels said that the forward has been “week-to-week” with ongoing symptoms.
Samson did make a brief appearance prior to Wednesday’s power-skating session at Extreme Ice Center, skating on his own in a yellow non-contact jersey. That only lasted 10 minutes, though it’s unclear as to whether or not he had initially planned to stay out for a longer period of time.
“There’s really no plan right now,” said Daniels. “He’s just doing what the doctors say he’s supposed to do and taking each day as it comes.”
Samson, who scored at least 20 goals in each of his first five AHL seasons, had 18 points (7g, 11a) in 35 games after his most recent outing in Raleigh on Jan. 6.
During back-to-back games, former Checkers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti recorded his first NHL point, an assist against Tampa Bay on Sunday, and his first NHL goal, the third-period winner against the New York Islanders on Monday.
For those who watched him play 127 games with Charlotte over the last three seasons, his goal looked quite familiar
“I’ve seen a lot of those where he came down the weak side and fired one top shelf like that,” said Daniels. “It was exciting to watch, and judging by his reaction, I know he was excited too.”
Though Sanguinetti is still establishing himself as a full-time NHL player in Carolina, it was a milestone moment on the long road that started with being a first-round pick in 2006 and continued with a trade and a few significant injuries along the way.
“He’s an offensive guy, but the defensive side of his game really developed and he became a good player at both ends,” said Checkers assistant coach Geordie Kinnear, who worked closely with Sanguinetti over the last three seasons. “He was a heck of a player for us, and since I’ve been doing this, he’s one of the guys that’s improved the most. He’s earned it and he deserves his shot up there.”
Sanguinetti, a leap-year baby born on Feb. 29, celebrated his 25th birthday on Thursday.
Shugg's Sneaky Scoring
In the absence of a single breakout game, it might be easy to miss Justin Shugg’s offensive contributions over the last month and a half.
With just one multi-point game and just two total goals, the second-year forward has put together one of the quietest scoring runs imaginable. However, his contributions (13 points in his last 17 games) are adding up.
“He’s a very talented player and he’s got some great skills,” said Daniels. “That line (with Terry and Luke Pither) has been generating a lot of offense, and he’s a big reason for that.”
“It’s a lot more comfortable being my second year at this level,” said Shugg, still the youngest player on the team at 21. “You always play with good players here.”
Offense has never been a concern for Shugg, who averaged 40 goals in each of his last two seasons of junior hockey with Windsor and Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League. Where the organization feels he’s taken strides is in his overall two-way game, with Daniels noting his consistency on the defensive end.
That said, no one will be surprised if he ends up having the big game that brings his strong play closer to the forefront.
“He’ll score goals,” said Daniels. “I’m not worried about that.”